Read reviews for the Explorer by Nigel Dennis Kayaks, Ltd. as submitted by your fellow paddlers. All of the reviews are created and written by paddlers like you, so be sure to submit your own review and be part of the community!
In mid summer of 2016, I purchased an older (1996) NDK Romany Explorer which is nowadays sold as a SKUK Explorer, of nearly identical design. This kayak was dirty and disheveled, even a bit stinky. However, it was fundamentally sound and featured a well known classic design. I cleaned it up, added new rigging, a paddle park, a keel strip, a new back band, and fixed a minor rear hatch leak. It was my intent to then sell the now enhanced kayak.
At this time my primary kayak was a Mariner Express, also a cult classic – quite famous for needing neither rudder nor skeg. It certainly lived up to that reputation. However, I was learning to roll and was having a hard time rolling the Express, even with my very supportive Pawlata roll. I failed more often than not and was essentially making zero progress. I consider a roll to be an important safety technique. So I was discouraged and, at 76 years old, was almost ready to forget rolling.
On a whim, I decided to try rolling the NDK. In my first session, I rolled on each of my 17 attempts. The rolls were shaky, but this was very encouraging. Was this a rolling breakthrough? No, on returning to the Mariner, I was about the same as earlier. So I stuck with the NDK for many weeks, until I knew where I was underwater. My technique had really firmed up. At this point I tried the Mariner and was quite successful, although the rolls were again on the shaky side.
So, for starters, I would say that the NDK Explorer is quite easy to roll, even for an elder. The kayak is 17’ 8” long and with a 21.5” beam and has enough rocker to be maneuverable. It isn’t a really fast boat for those dimensions, but it is certainly fast enough. It has a rope skeg, which I rather like for the ease of repair. However, I have yet to actually need the skeg – this kayak is quite neutral, maybe not so much as the Mariner, but not significantly inferior.
I have not weighed the NDK. but it is clearly on the heavy side. The older NDK kayaks are very sturdy, considered somewhat bombproof. The kayak may be slightly roomy for me at 5’ 5” and 145 pounds, yet I rather like that. I’ve read that the NDK Explorer LV does not have room for my hooves, so the standard model is the appropriate one anyway.
I am not a kayak camper, but would note that the NDK (with skeg box lurking in the rear hatch) reduces your packing options. This would not hinder a backpacker at all, but I would need to become more efficient in terms of what gear to bring for an extended trip. Further, I like to keep my deck relatively clean.
I’ve owned my share of kayaks, and would rank this as the best of those. These kayaks would include: - Seaward Endeavor - North Shore Calypso - NDK Romany (classic) - Boreal Design Ellesmere - Mariner Express This isn’t quite a fair comparison, because my skill level has evolved as well. Finally, if the kayak were lighter, I’d be a bit more pleased, but otherwise I am happy.
I have the standard heavy fiberglass layup but when you are doing that kind of stuff your kayak really gets beat up. The lighter boats will show it real quick. I have no complaints about the quality of my boat. I did not have a choice of color (British Racing Green) for the price I paid but if I had a choice it would be white, cream, yellow or some light color. The lighter colors are cooler to the touch temperature wise in the hot summer sun and are lighter in weight. I am 6'4" so I have a HV version with a foam seat. I like the foam seat because you can position it anywhere in the cockpit and it easy to add foam to. The back band was replaced with a NSI one, IR also makes a good one.
This boat will not set any speed records, but cannot be beat in what it does well. Excellent stability, turns well, predictable, almost never need the skeg. The opening of hatches are smaller than most boats; requires careful planning when packing for a camping trip. The seat in the LV is nothing more than a pad glued to the bottom of the hull. The regular volume has a comfortable seat. Both of us have replaced the backbands with ones from Snapdragon.
We both love the Explorer and would buy it again. Have not paddled anything that will do everything as well as the Explorer.
The quality concerns that others have written about are valid comments. Although personally I have had pretty good luck with the two Explorers I have owned, I have talked to a number of others that have had problems, and there are a LOT of Explorers out there.
I was at home in the cockpit from the first moment I sat in it, although I do feel much more comfortable in the HV version I currently own. For some reason my back and my thighs don't hurt me like they did in the standard model. That could be more a function of my age than anything else.
Now on to boat handling. I don't know if I can add to what has already been said in praise of this topic but I have been in very rough conditions, like 6' - 8' swells, 25 - 30 mph winds, and even 4' dumping surf in all of the boat models I have owned, and the Explorer is THE best boat to have under you when the going is rough. The handling is responsive, predictable, forgiving, supportive, and just the best damn kayak out there period. I am considering being buried in it some day rather than a coffin (okay, I jest) but if you are considering purchasing a serious all-around camping, day-tripping, surfing, durable, rough water handling sea kayak, just buy it. But, check for defects on the hull and test paddle it if you can to make sure there aren't any major leaks anywhere. Get a good one, but get one!
Top speed is not what you are looking for in this one, but for touring another 10.
With the rope skeg you will never need anything but an additional rope and a knife to fix it on site :-) Although it needs some time to get used to getting it in the right position. But then again, the skeg is only a thing for long crossings in those winds directions requiring it.
Dry as a desert for soon to be 3 years - the hatches might in fact pop off if the kayak is on ground in the sun.
Why not a 10 total? Because it is a bit heavy - listed as 25 kg's mine is actually 27 kg's. But the beating it can take is tremendous though. And because for me personally the odd leg gets asleep now and then - but that happens in other kayaks as well....
For pure play I would go for the Romany - and maybe that's next on the list if I should buy another kayak. But first I will build a Black Pearl to check out the outer end of kayak range
Why did I buy it? Well, like I said, it's a dream to paddle. Would I recommend it to someone else? Yes, but be prepared to walk away from it if it doesn't live up to your expectations of quality.
Unfortunately there was some miscommunication and I was unable to use footpegs as now the cockpit was too small for my long legs, on a more minor note, the custom colour I had specified was not used, but a lighter shade. Fortunately I bought the boat from a good dealer and by late 2004, I had another NDK Explorer. My advice, and this holds true when buying any brand kayak - stick to the ones you can actually see and test out, as special ordering is always somewhat of a crapshoot. That being said, after a year of using this boat, I have nothing but praise for the NDK Explorer's handling abilities, especially in rough water. I have never had to use the skeg, even in very windy conditions where others felt compelled to drop their rudders, this boat really resists weathercocking, turns easily and handles waves well. The workmanship is great - I have never seen water in my bulkheads even after playing in the surf and rolling several times. It is an easy boat to roll too and this has added to my confidence in addition to it's rough water handling. If I would change anything it would be to place a larger oval VCP hatch on the rear bulkhead, as I do camping from my kayak.
If you're a backpacker then this boat presents no problems, otherwise you have to substitute your large dry bags for smaller ones. This has not presented a problem for me thus far as I'm not trying to pack a large tent or other bulky equipment. We tried to put a folding kayak cart in the rear bulkhead once and the hatch opening was just a bit too small for it. All in all I'm very pleased with the boat and would highly recommend it for intermediate to advanced paddlers who are looking for a boat that can handle rougher waters and still get you through an expedition.
The secondary stability is superb, but it can be a little lively unladen if you are used to a wider boat, so if you want a boat for taking photographs from and eating your sandwiches whilst bobbing about on day trips it is perhaps not the obvious choice, but if you want a fast and responsive boat with a real appetite for rough water, then this is certainly the best sea kayak money can buy.
Mine is one of the early ones, she is very heavy, and very solid. In places where a boat with more primary would have made me nervous (or upside down)she just lets the little stuff go and the secondary is a dream. Slower than some 18 foot boats I have owned. I weigh 235 and paddle the standard version. I love the rope skeg, every skeg boat I've paddled has been annoying to my knee except those equipped with a rear rope skeg. She doesn't need it much unless I'm feeling lazy. She will ship water if I practice an over the back deck rescue, but if you cannot roll this boat you cannot roll. Yeah, the usual niggles, needs a foam seat and different backband. I've yet to paddle the T 170 or anything from Mariner, but for right now in rough water she is THE THING, with a bag of chips, salsa, and 4 gigs of RAM. I love the day hatch and keep my cell phone (in dry case), thermos of ginger tea, first aid kit, (need Dramamine or got blisters anyone), some boat repair stuff and other tricks in there. Radio and flares are on me.
I have a three piece explorer without a skeg which I bought second hand from a sponsored paddler two years ago. I have since addead an electric bilge pump and a sail kit. Before purchasing it I tried a number of different sea kayaks and felt happiest in this one, possibly because it feels more like a river boat.
I found the build quality on this boat to be excellent although it is heavy. I find it's more stable and handles better particularly in heavy seas than the boats used by many of the serious sea paddlers here although it is slower as the standard length for long distance touring here tends to be about 5.8m. It has excellent handling and turns well with a lean and when playing in surf you can recover from washing out at a later stage than many other boats. It handles quatering seas and winds with only a little weather cocking and I feel this would be almost eliminated with a skeg. It is the easiest boat to roll I've paddled and requires about half the effort of a whitewater kayak.
Overall I am very happy with the performance of this boat and the only thing I don't like is the weight when I have to lift it on and off the car.
The initial stability is medium to low, especially since a lot of my weight is in my upper body, but the secondary is very good. It is very easy to hold a sculling brace for long periods of time. With the low initial stability putting the boat on edge is easy and predictable.
The boat rolls very nicely, easier than my Gulfstream as a comparison.
Tracking is good, yet will gracefully carve a turn when edged. Weather cocking is noticable, but manageable with some slight edging. The skeg is huge when fully deployed. With the skeg fully deployed leecocking is very noticable. The skeg control works well, it is the older rope skeg. I have noticed some skeg vibration when surfing, it is more of a humm. A skeg is not really needed, but it is helpful when you are tired and just want to make for home.
It is not a terribly fast boat on flat water given its length (17'8")and width (21.5"), but get it in some waves and rough water it is fast and predictable, waves seem to just not effect the hull at all as they just roll right under. It very good in quartering or following seas. It has good glide and I can keep a 5 mph pace with ease and can push it to 6 mph in a sprint. This boat really shines in rough water. It has good surf manners, pearling so far has not been an issue, but I have not been on any surf over 3 or 4 ft, but summer is not far away down here on the Gulf coast.
This is not a beginners boat, but would be possible for a motivated beginner in warm water, it will definetly challenge the newbie.
OK, now for quality. I really looked this boat over at the shop I purchased it from. About a week or so later, I noticed a flat spot on the right rear quarter of the hull and some spider cracks. It had a hole repaired at some point from an impact with something, it measured about 2.5" x 1.5". This was purchased as a new boat mind you. I spoke to the dealer who was surprised by it as well, he had not noticed it when he accepted the boat. He was a real pleasure to deal with, he ordered a new boat for me no questions or wishy washy feelings. It was, "this is not right, I want to keep my reputation as a good and honest dealer and I want your repeat business". So I should have a new boat arriving sometime this month. If you live in the Austin area and are looking for a great paddle shop, be sure to check out Austin Gear and Guidance, John is a great person and all 'round good bloke. The rest of the finish and quality on this boat is very good, which is fairly rare for a NDK boat. Hatches and skeg box are bone dry after surfing and rolling practice. So overall I am very happy with this boat. Highly recommended, though look the boat over carefully, it will be worth it.
I will update in another 4 months for a six month review, if I remember.
For camping, I find the circular hatches superior -- they are water tight and force you to use smaller dry bags which can better fill the hull. We had all the room we needed for a week trip -- to include ~ 10 gallons of water in each boat. The rope skeg design is, in my mind, superior to the more popular slider skegs. I do not use a skeg unless absolutely necessary so the ability to "feather" the skeg is not important. This skeg will not stick or get clogged with sand. It can be fixed in the field with not special tools and when deployed it works really well.
The Explorer performs better in following wind and seas than the Legend and the weight of the Explorer compares very favorably to the heavier Legend. All in all I am extremely pleased with the Explorer. In fact I have not had the Legend in the water since I brought the Explorers home.
Footnote on quality control. The Explorer really looks good! I can't find anything to complain about. I did have an idea about the point at which the rope attaches to the skeg and called Nigle Dennis to seek advise. I found him first to be interested and second to be very responsive. I made the adjustment which we discussed on the phone and then e-mailed the results to him -- he even answered the e-mail within 48 hours. The Explorer is one fine boat within a family of very fine boats shch as the Legend.
I agree with the last reviewers on how it handles, but at 6'-1" 225 lbs, I find the seat to be a perfect fit and did not like the Necky or Current Designs seats. This shows how the same boat fits different paddlers differently. I also find the initial stability to be low and the secondary stability very solid. This boat will make you a better paddler!
The Explorer is a dream. You may have to learn better balancing skills while turning around to look behind you or get into the day hatch (day hatches are awsome). Bit shy on the initial stability. It tracks nice, maneuvers beautifully, if you don't want to deal with the, less than others weathercocking in good winds, just a little on the skeg is all it takes. Bow lifts over waves. Not a DROP of water into the hatches or through the skeg. Bulkhead is close behind seat for easy removal of water from main compartment(won't go there). It will do whatever your little legs and hips tell it to do,,, easily. I thought the seat would be uncomfortable, it isn't at all during extended paddling, it is slippery though which I'll remedy probably with a Padz. I was all ready to be making a seat, but for now I'll wait. I'll probably modify the footpegs only because I had made about a 4"x4" bracket with thin closed cell foam on my last boat, which is just way too comfy without effecting use. And will probably add just a hint of foam to the thigh braces because I don't like any movement in my knees while they are up there, and also will probably add some thigh supports, again just because I made them for my last one and it is just too comfortable to have that support. I think that not enough attention is given to fitting a boat to your weight, mainly saying that I think many people don't weigh enough for the boat they have, to get a proper water line for speed, tracking and handling.
I can see this boat being the last one I ever buy(please oh please). In which case I won't mind the big dip into the pocket to pay for it. Just do it, don't look at your bank account, get the first scratch over with the first day (I really would have perferred not to, but at least it was over with), and enjoy an Awsome boat. Keep your plastic boat, if you have one, for those potentially rocky river trips with friends,,, you'll feel better.
I have a web page at http:/pages.ivillage.com/mcgruer if anyone wants to see what we paddle in.
My new HV model retains the handling characteristics, but has more room for me: 6'3" - 190lbs. - size 14 feet. I can even comfortably paddle in my Chotas finally. With the original Explorer I could get enough gear and food below decks for a solo 15 day trip along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
When I purchased my new HV, I tried a number of different boats that I could comfortable fit into, but still felt that the Explorer had the best "feel". It just seems more a part of me than a boat I'm sitting in.
I somewhat argree with Bob in his comments about quality control. This seems to be a continuing problem with NDK. The dealer I purchased from will only sell these boats with the old skeg deployment mechanism as they have had many problems with the new one jamming. Be careful in your inspection of a new boat before accepting it. HOWEVER, IT IS DEFINITELY WORTH THE TROUBLE TO GET A GOOD ONE!
Update on Explorer posted by Bob Haley. This kayak continues to leak from the skeg houseing, bulkheads, and possibly hatch rims. While it's a nice handling kayak, it cannot be considered seaworthy craft until the quality control inspectors at NDK get their shit together. Be prepared to sink if you are on the water more than 3 hours. Almost every owner of an NDK kayak I have come into contact with has had serious (read: not minimal)manufacturing defects in the kayak they recieved. NDK has been almost totally unresponsive in dealing with these issue with individual buyers. Nigel Dennis got an earful of complaints while in the Northwest recently. While the hull design is excellent, the workmanship is less than amatueur. With that said, the kayak rates a 4 out of 10. Purchase almost any other kayak if you want to stay afloat while paddling.